A Chair in Family Enterprises has been created at HEC Liège in partnership with Banque de Luxembourg. Its three-year academic research programme is aimed at understanding the family business model and identifying to what extent it plays a meaningful role.
Although the family business model is often held up as an example, few studies have been made of it
Family businesses account for well over half the world's companies. In the French Community of Belgium, the figure is even as high as 75%. The family business model is often held up as an example – with good reason – for the contribution family businesses make to the creation of wealth and jobs, for their continuity and common sense, for their capacity to adapt, and for their social role in the countries and regions in which they are established.
Family businesses have often been less closely researched, partly because they have fewer reporting obligations and have historically been more discreet, or even secretive. However, the family business comes in many forms and should not necessarily be seen as representing a definitive model. Banque de Luxembourg and HEC Liège are interested in investigating the bounds of this model, for the business and for the family, and the Chair in Family Enterprises has been established in this context.
A three-year partnership on a subject of mutual interest
Banque de Luxembourg supports families in business in the management of their family and business wealth – in tangible as well as intangible aspects – especially at times of change. Change may be brought on by investment projects, alterations to the shareholding structure, the sale of assets and, of course, preparing for succession. “We have long supported family businesses in Luxembourg and Belgium, as we believe in this unique model, which is inspirational as much due to its values, complex as they are, as to the close interweave between the life of the family and that of the business,” says Philippe Depoorter, Member of the Executive Committee of Banque de Luxembourg.
At HEC Liège, the Management School of the University of Liège, interest in family enterprises is not new: over the last ten years, Professor Nathalie Crutzen has carried out a series of studies on the subject, in collaboration with the Belgian Institut de l'Entreprise Familiale, while a course specifically focusing on issues facing family businesses has been offered to Masters students since 2017.
In contributing to financing the Chair, Banque de Luxembourg sees an opportunity to further scientific knowledge of a subject which is of great interest to the Bank and enhance its close understanding of the experience of family entrepreneurs. For HEC Liège, this new Chair opens up an academic field that has not been high on the agenda of other universities, and will be of value to current and future entrepreneurs who are studying at HEC Liège.
A tailored programme for family entrepreneurs
Over the next three years, the general theme of the Chair’s research will be to study the family business model. The issues addressed by the Chair will include the following:
- How do the demands of growth and time impact the effectiveness of the family model?
- To what extent can the cost of the family model be sustained in the development of the business?
- When precisely does the model reach its limit? Are there any warning signs? Invariables?
- What is the capacity – and/or the resistance – of the business and the family to opening up or evolving, especially to avoid the effects of a form of inbreeding? At what point does it become necessary?
- When does the family become a burden to the business? Inversely, when does the business threaten to destroy the family?
The ‘remedies’ and best practices identified by the Chair will be very concrete so that tangible solutions can be offered to family entrepreneurs:
- Management Buy-Outs (MBOs) and Leveraged Buy-Outs (LBOs)
- Passive or active investors like private equity funds
- Cross-ownerships, partnerships
- Shareholder foundations
- Minority IPOs
- Other options
To lead these projects, a new PhD student, Raphaëlle Mattart, has been appointed at HEC Liège. She will work under the academic supervision of Nathalie Crutzen, the Chair’s Director. Banque de Luxembourg will be represented on the Steering Committee by Philippe Depoorter. This Committee is responsible for defining the research themes and overseeing the PhD. Awareness-raising events for family entrepreneurs will be organised.
Left to right: Raphaëlle Mattart - HEC Liège, Philippe Depoorter - Banque de Luxembourg, Nathalie Crutzen - HEC Liège, Wilfried Nissen - HEC Liège, David Schmidt - Banque de Luxembourg Belgium